(BBC) – New Zealand says it has stopped community transmission of Covid-19, effectively eliminating the virus.
With new cases in single figures for several days – one on Sunday – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the virus was “currently” eliminated.
But officials have warned against complacency, saying it does not mean a total end to new coronavirus cases.
The news came hours before New Zealand moved out of its toughest level of social restrictions.
From Tuesday, some non-essential business, healthcare and education activity will be able to resume.
Most people will still be required to remain at home at all times and avoid all social interactions.
“We are opening up the economy, but we’re not opening up people’s social lives,” Ms Ardern said at the daily government briefing.
New Zealand has reported fewer than 1,500 confirmed or probable cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths.
New Zealand’s Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, said the low number of new cases in recent days “does give us confidence that we have achieved our goal of elimination”.
He warned that “elimination” did not mean there would be no new cases “but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from”.
How did New Zealand respond to the virus?
The country brought in some of the toughest restrictions in the world on travel and activity early on in the pandemic, when it only had a few dozen cases.
It closed its borders, started enforcing quarantine of all arrivals in the country, brought in a stringent lockdown and mounted an extensive testing and contact tracing operation.
Beaches, waterfronts and playgrounds were shut on 26 March, as were offices and schools. Bars and restaurants were also closed, including for takeaway and delivery.
Ms Ardern said modelling indicated New Zealand could have had more than 1,000 cases a day if it had not brought in the lockdown so early.
She said the country could never know how bad it would have been but that “through our cumulative actions we have avoided the worst”.
New Zealand’s remote location and easily sealable borders played in its favour when the virus broke out, experts say.
But the government has also been praised for the clarity of its messaging throughout the crisis.